Families displaced by fighting in the Black Sea country of Georgia expressed profound gratitude for a feeding ministry Southern Baptist relief workers conducted in Gori, a member of the relief team told Baptist Press.
A seven-member team of disaster relief specialists from Texas Baptist Men cooked hot meals for about two thousand people who had taken refuge in eighteen kindergarten buildings in Gori, the team member reported. An estimated one hundred thousand people were displaced by the fighting, according to news services.
"We are really starting to ramp up the relief operation," the team member said. "Many of these people have not had a hot meal in more than three weeks."
As people received the meals, which were provided through the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund, they thanked the volunteers profusely, the team member said.
"One lady just could not stop saying, 'Thank you,'" he said. "One man was crying as he accepted the food."
One woman who lives near the local Baptist church came to where the volunteers were working and asked for some soup, the team member said. She took it back to her apartment in an old paint bucket. Touched by the fact that she had nothing better to carry the soup in, one of the team members found a teapot near the church, cleaned it up, filled it with soup, and took it to the lady's apartment.
The Texas team left on August 27 to set up the feeding operation and was joined by a seven-member team from the Kentucky Baptist Convention on September 4 and a ten-member team from the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma which left for Georgia on September 7, according to Jim Brown, U.S. director of Baptist Global Response, an international relief and development organization.
The Oklahoma team's departure was delayed because that state's feeding unit had been in Colorado, ministering to law enforcement officers providing security at the Democratic National Convention.
Each team was expected to be on the ground roughly ten days, Brown said. Before the Texas team left, a total of twenty-four Southern Baptist specialists were in the country of Georgia at the same time.
"We are hoping that if we hit it hard with these first three teams, they can help get relief operations set up so they can be turned over to local Baptist partners," Brown said. "We understand also that Baptist volunteers from Ukraine and Armenia may come to help, and that local labor is available for rebuilding and repair projects."
Complicating matters was the fact that the United States was entering its own hurricane season. Speaking at the end of August, Brown noted, "Florida already has been hammered with severe flooding, and another storm is headed for the Gulf and no one really knows where it will strike." Brown added, "It's possible that Southern Baptist Disaster Relief workers may be needed for response to storm events in the U.S., and that will affect our ability to field volunteers for Georgia."
The Southern Baptist overseas team in Georgia is coordinating with other humanitarian groups and Georgia's ministry of refugees, a team member reported.
"We just returned from meeting with these people," the team member said. "An Italian group is going to be responsible for cooking for the larger part of the refugees and setting up a big kitchen at the tent cities. We offered to use our church building to store humanitarian aid."
Dealing with the multitude of details involved in conducting a relief effort has been difficult, but it is worth it to see the joy and hope in people's eyes, the team member said.
"It's an adventure, but it's been challenging," he said. "God is stretching our faith and showing Himself faithful. We're looking forward to seeing what God will do here."
Relief workers on the ground in Gori asked for prayer on several counts.
"Please pray for logistics. We've had some interesting dealings with other humanitarian aid organizations," the team member said. "And pray the good relationships with the Georgian government and the Georgian Red Cross would continue.
"We'd also ask people to pray for the delivery of food," he added. "Delivering food to the eighteen kindergartens today was kind of challenging. If we also start feeding at the private homes, where refugees are staying, that difficulty could easily multiply."
The kinds of supplies Southern Baptists are providing are in short supply, the team member noted.
"No one supplies hygiene items except for us and one other group, and they are still waiting on the boat from the U.S. to get USAID supplies — and even then it will only be enough for two thousand families. We have already done this for 3,500 families by making local purchases with a few thousand dollars provided by Southern Baptists.
"Hygiene items have been the most desired items from the beginning. The second thing has been diapers and baby food," the team member reported. "We did these things and they love us! People aren't real fond of MREs!"
To donate to Baptist overseas relief ministries, visit www.imb.org and click on the "Give" tab, then the "Human needs ministries" link.
Mark Kelly is a member of Peace Community Church in Gallatin, Tennessee, and is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.